Shri. S. Pandianknown as ThenPandian hails from a village called in Thenkarai village at Tirupattur Taluk, Sivangangai District in Tamil Nadu. His parents were engaged in agriculture. He studied at the Arumugam Pillai Government Higher Secondary school at Tirupattur; pursued his graduation and Post-graduation in Sociology at Annamalai University; and Law from Bangalore University.
He is the Founder Secretary of People for Human Rights Forum (PFHR) and a member of Campaign for Custodial Justice. He is also a member of Amnesty International and a Senior Asoka Fellow.
ThenPandian is spearheading a widespread movement in India to demand humane treatment for people subjected to police custodial care and interrogation. He organizes systematic education on human rights and legal issues for rural activists, common people, and police personnel. He is also building a sustained campaign, including a victims’ forum, to ensure custodial justice and human rights in rural areas and abolish torture in rural police stations, jails, and institutions.
Through an extensive volunteer network, grassroots research and fact-finding missions, Pandian is ensuring that no authority functions above the law.
S. Pandian shares with Marie Banu about his movement in India to demand humane treatment for people subjected to police custodial care and interrogation.
What influenced you to engage in human rights activism?
I noticed that the issue of untouchability was predominant in my village.Ihad many friends who belonged to the Dalit community.At school, we used to share our lunch and play together, but when we entered our village wechose to interact with people from our own caste.
Once my parents reprimanded me for having attendeda Dalit’swedding.I also witnessed the policemen beating up Dalits who were participating in Amedkar’s Event. These incidentsled me to reflect on the issue of casteism in our country.
I started work as a human rights activist. In 1993, I led a demonstration of Ambattur estate wage labourers, got arrested without charge by the police, and was detained for over a month.This experience demonstrated the critical gaps in the criminal justice system between the victims, the charge-sheeted, and the authorities. Since then, I made it my life’s mission to ensure that people are aware of their rights, and have the capacity to ensure that they do not get violated by the arms of the State.
Can you tell us about an issue for which you have campaigned for?
At Kelambakkam, there was a company by name White House Process Limited that was engaged in dye making. As they did not have a mechanism for waste water disposal, the ground water was polluted in the area.The farmers campaigned against this company which led to arrest of many and a young boy was severely beaten up by the police. I read about this incident in the papers and approached the Human Rights Commission to resolve this issue.
Justice Sambandam was very supportive as the reason for the campaign against the company was just.At first, we enabled disconnection of the electricity connection for the company and within three years of continuous effort we made the company close its operations at Kelambakkam and re-locate to Gujarat.
We also had a discussion with the police and the Human Rights Commission which led to compromise of both parties on this issue.
About your experience with Amnesty International?
I coordinated a campaign against death penalty along with K.Manoharan (S.V.Rajadurai), Writer and Senior Human Rights Activist; and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.Amnesty International approached us and asked us to be part of their programmes.
I liked Amnesty International as it is against capital punishment.I believe in Gandhian principles. To impose a death penalty is similar to: “An eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth” principle. It is like taking revenge! Whatever may be the crime, we should give an opportunity for the person to realise his mistake.
About your work for the rights of the women and children?
At every District Collectorate, there is a woman social welfare officer. I handle Domestic Violence cases that are being referred by them free of cost.
I have been working for the rights of children especially in line with Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Law.This law has two dimensions – conflict with law; and care and protection. I obtain bail from Juvenile Justice Board for juveniles who are accused of committing theft.
How were your able to muster volunteer support for your campaigns?
Dr. Ambedkar, Shri Kamaraj and Shri EVR (Periyar) have been my role models. I am much inspired by these personalities as they all led simple lives. When one leads a simple life and works for the cause of the society, he gains the confidence of the people.
I have the support of over thousands of volunteers across 24 districts of Tamil Nadu.In 2006, I organized a padayatra along with my volunteers for a distance of 1400 kms along the coast of Kanyakumari to Chennai in order to gather information from tsunami affected people about the relief and rehabilitation that has been offered,and the support they required.
I handed over my study findings to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.Following this, the government allocated 1000 crores towards construction of permanent shelters for the affected victims.
What are the programmes that you are presently enaged in?
I am involved in a studyon sustainable livelihood for Tribals living in Javadi hills and Sitheri hills located at Thiruvanamalai and Dharmapuri districts.
I am also lobbying with the Tamil Nadu Government to relocate 3600 Tamil Nadu coolie labourers who are now lodged in different jails in Andhra Pradesh to be relocated at prisons in Tamil Nadu.